Russian Oligarch Roman Abramovich Wins First Round of Libel Case Over Claims in Putin’s People Book

A United Kingdom judge ruled on Nov. 24 that a number of passages in the bestselling book “Putin’s People” were defamatory against Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich.

Abramovich is suing publisher HarperCollins and journalist Catherine Belton for libel, saying that certain passages conveyed untrue meanings about him, including a claim that he bought the Chelsea football club in 2003 under Russian President Vladimir Putin’s orders to increase Russian influence in the UK.

In the 34-page ruling, Judge Amanda Tipples of London’s High Court agreed that several allegations in the book, including a claim that Abramovich had acted as a “cashier” for former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, were “defamatory of the claimant” and were presented as statements of fact, not opinion.

A spokesperson for Abramovich said that they welcomed the ruling and called for the “false and defamatory claims” against Abramovich “to be corrected as soon as possible.”

Tipples emphasized that the court was not deciding, at this stage, whether the allegations made about Abramovich in the book were true, but was adjudicating on meaning or how the passages in the book would be interpreted by an “ordinary reasonable reader.”

In a statement, HarperCollins said that Abramovich “has not won his claim” and that the book was an “acclaimed work of considerable public interest.”

“Today’s preliminary judgment only decides what ordinary readers would understand the relevant passages in the book to mean. Any trial is not expected to take place for at least a year,” HarperCollins stated.

Russian state oil company Rosneft is also suing the book for libel.

Russian oligarchs Pyotr Aven and Mikhail Fridman dropped their legal actions after HarperCollins agreed to remove material from future editions.


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